If you live in San Francisco, you've walked past wild mallow plants growing out of cracks in the sidewalk, in neglected gardens and other untended patches of urban land. A hardy plant which appears early in the spring, the common mallow is one of the many members of the botanical family Malvaceae which includes hibiscus, okra and cotton.
All parts of the mallow are edible; roots, leaves, seed pods and flowers. Mallow has been foraged for centuries for use as a highly nutritious food and and as a versatile medicinal herb. It thrives in poor soil and requires little water, and thus has been a valuable resource in times of food shortage.
Young mallow leaves are tender and mild, with no hint of bitterness. They can be used like any other leafy green - raw in salads, steamed, sauteed or even blended into smoothies. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooks add them to traditional stews; the large mature leaves are used as wraps in place of grape leaves. The seed pods are high in protein and healthy vegetable oils.
Our prehistoric ancestors survived for millennia on their impressive ability to gather and hunt wild foods. Many edible plants thrive in urban settings, though they are usually dismissed as nothing more than nuisance weeds. Learning about wild plants provides us with a valuable connection to our ancient origins and an appreciation for the vast changes in our food supply and the manner in which it is procured.
Foraging should always be undertaken with caution. For those who wish to learn more, there are many informative web sites devoted to the topic. Here is the link to one such site:
Mallow Seed Pods